My rating: 5 of 5 stars
With books like Maus, that have become epochal, it is sometimes hard to know where to begin. So this review shall begin at the beginning; at the start of things, where my knowledge of comics was that of the 90s X Men cartoon and my knowledge of World War Two was classroom bound and black and white.
Maus was the book that told me: This is comics. This is comics, tackling the awful, the hideous and the disturbing with a skill that could be rarely achieved in another art form. This is comics, drawing visual metaphors and pen strokes that combine to create an allusory whole. This is comics: where a construction of lines, shadows, and shape, can be greatness.
It’s always the little details that get to me in stories of great pain and tragedy. Sometimes numbers become too big. Sometimes they’re just numbers and we forget that they were people once. The great power of Spiegelman’s narrative is to not forget the people at the centre of this immense, horrific story. His characters, despite their outward forced similarities as dog – cat – mouse, are resolutely individuals. And that’s one of the utter strengths of Maus. Just by drawing and writing people as, well, people, Spiegelman skewers any ‘logic’ to classifying people by their racial identity. His truth comes from his quietly magisterial art and the animal masks sit uneasily on his characters.
Aesthetically and conceptually, it’s a tour-de-force. Spiegelman affixes each of his characters with an ‘animal’ identity drawn from their race. Americans are dogs, Jews are Mice, and Nazis are cats. Speigelman engages with his book, exploring his own sense of self and guilt to immense effect (his sessions with his psychiatrist are stunning).
It’s a book that was, and remains, a game-changing experience both on a personal and conceptual level. Maus is an unforgettable encounter.